Malaysia’s mixed message on piracy

By Ben Bland (The Telegraph, UK)

Just days after two Malaysian women were fined nearly £200,000 each for possession of pirated DVDs, Malaysia's new prime minister Najib Razak used his first full day in office to go on a walkabout on Jalan Petaling (Petaling Street), which is the bustling centre of Kuala Lumpur's counterfeit goods retail industry.

While wandering down Jalan Petaling, which is in the middle of KL's Chinatown, Najib spoke to watch dealers and bag sellers, according to The Star newspaper. Yet these hawkers almost exclusively sell the kind of counterfeit goods that Malaysia is supposedly so keen to wipe out – fake Rolexes and Prada handbags and pirated DVDs.

The trip to Chinatown was an attempt by Najib to be seen to be reaching out to all Malaysians, regardless of ethnic background. On the same day he also visited the Malay and Indian heartlands in KL.

But if the sale of counterfeit goods is such a serious offence that two retail assistants are facing a massive fine and possible jail sentence for simply possessing several hundred illegally copied DVDs, it seems bizarre that Najib would walk down Jalan Petaling and natter with the dodgy traders so brazenly.

It's the equivalent of Britain launching a severe crackdown on recreational drug use at the same time as Gordon Brown goes on a walkabout in Camden Town, chatting to weed dealers, spliff-smoking teenagers and crack addicts.

The judge who convicted the two women said: "We do not want our country to be a place for infringement of properties, especially in the arts industry. It does not only bring losses to copyright owners but it is also bad for our country's economy." I wonder if Najib made the same point when he met the Petaling Street traders on Saturday.